Annual one-day census to count those experiencing homelessness in OKC
The annual count of people in Oklahoma City experiencing homelessness is Thursday, providing another data point in the long-term effort to better understand and address its causes and effects.
The Homeless Alliance, City of Oklahoma City and Coalition to End Poverty conduct the survey, called the Point in Time Count and Outreach. Teams will visit shelters, hot meal programs and encampments to count and survey people experiencing homelessness. Small items like hygiene kits, coats and gloves will also be available for survey participants who need them.
Communities that receive funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are required to conduct the survey at least once every two years, although Oklahoma City’s survey is annual.
The survey helps local service agencies identify trends, plan services and housing programs, and ultimately better help people end their homelessness.
“This is a particularly difficult population to count accurately,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. “Things like the weather on the day of the count and improved counting strategies can cause the numbers to fluctuate. That’s why the result from one year to the next may not tell you much, but conducting the survey every year and looking at trends over time helps us identify where we need more resources.”
Results of the 2018 count will be compiled and analyzed and will be released later this year.
About homelessness in OKC
The 2017 survey counted 1,368 people experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City. Experts estimate a community’s annual population of people experiencing homelessness is about four or five times larger than its one-night findings. That means up to 6,840 people were likely experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City last year.
Straughan said he expects to see a slight increase this year, including in the number of families with children and people who are unsheltered, based on preliminary information from outreach teams, his agency and other shelters.
“The good news is our community is getting better at housing people,” said Jerod Shadid, an associate planner in the City Planning Department’s community development division. “Thanks to years of collaboration, local organizations are doing a better job of coordinating services. It makes it easier to get people to the services they need more quickly.”
Most of the larger service agencies in Oklahoma City are participating in a coordinated intake system that standardizes assessment tools and eligibility criteria, Shadid added. The system makes it easier to track resources as they become available.
But services to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place are beyond what local service groups are able to provide, and significant increases in local housing costs over the last decade have added pressure for people with financial difficulties.
The local median rent grew at a faster rate than almost every non-coastal American city, outpacing income growth, according to the Oklahoma City Housing Authority’s most recent affordable housing strategy report.
“Unfortunately, homelessness isn’t really going to get any better until the community works to develop more affordable housing and invests more in mental health and substance abuse treatment,” said Straughan.
The Point in Time survey does not attempt to count people who are temporarily homeless and staying with a friend, relative or acquaintance, sometimes referred to as “couch homeless.” The number of couch homeless is uncertain, but the Oklahoma City Public School District had 5,475 homeless children enrolled in 2016-17 school year, 80 percent of whom were couch homeless.
The Homeless Alliance, a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization, helps coordinate and improve services for the homeless population of Oklahoma City. For more information about the homeless or how to help, call (405) 415-8410 or visit homelessalliance.org.
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Kinsey Crocker, Homeless Alliance
Jerod Shadid, City of Oklahoma City